Saint John has launched an ambitious program to try to reverse population decline and get the city's economy and tax base growing.
Billed as the "Roadmap for Smart Growth," the plan will dedicate a staff person to population growth and set aside funds to encourage immigration and build a marketing brand.
As part of the plan, the city will also launch a campaign to sell city-owned properties, including two pieces of parkland, to developers.
Mayor Don Darling cited flat revenue growth and rising costs as he briefed reporters on the plan, which council approved before sharing it with the public.
Goal is more people
"We've got to be aggressive," Darling said. "We've got to move through this."
The 45-page document calls for the "overarching shift of the entire economic development landscape" toward population and economic development goals.
In anticipation of the strategy, the city had already allocated $450,000 of its operating budget for growth.
The plan calls specifically for the development and sale of 10 "priority municipally owned properties," including Fundy Quay and the former sugar refinery site, both on the city's harbour waterfront.
Buyer for synagogue property
Darling announced Tuesday the city had an agreement of sale on another key property, the historic former synagogue building on Carlton Street.
The buyer, Cooke Aquaculture, will renovate the property to turn it into office space.
The city also hopes to shed two properties in Millidgeville, a plan bound to cause controversy.
One property is Tucker Park, a beach and scenic recreation space, and Darling made no apologies for putting it on the block.
Attention to 'citizens' priorities'
"I can tell you there would be a strong desire to find a good project for Tucker Park that we could turn into tax investment or tax dollars for the city, so that we can invest in the citizens' priorities," he said.
The other property is on Sandy Point Road, within the boundaries of Rockwood Park.
An attempt to allow construction there in 2009 created a public uproar that ended with a council vote to place a moratorium on development in the park.
The new growth plan provides funding for the remainder of the year to Enterprise Saint John, which will continue to control the job creation file.
Saint John's 2017 operating budget originally set aside funding for only the first six months of the year for both Enterprise Saint John and the Saint John Development Corporation, also known as Saint John Waterfront Development.
The future of that agency is less clear. The growth plan calls for its services to be "aligned" with Saint John Industrial Parks, another arm's-length agency.
Future not decided
Funding for the two agencies for the second half of the year remains the same but shows in the growth document as a combined figure, $270,000.
City manager Jeff Trail said Tuesday it is too early to say how the alignment exercise will unfold over the next two months.
Saint John Waterfront general manager Ken MacIntyre could not be reached for comment.
The strategy includes a stepped-up initiative to get owners of dangerous and vacant buildings to fix them up or demolish them.